I read an article (sent to me by a friend) on the New York Times this morning about downsizing: home size and stuff. Last week, I wrote a post about my small apartment and wanting more space. Somehow this article validated my current home–making it seem morally superior to a larger home–and encouraged me to make it more livable. But I soon realized I already do those things, and it isn’t morally superior. I moved here with 2 suitcases, and I will leave with more than I brought. I have many things, and I use them, and I make an effort not to have excess. As do most of the other people I know in this town.
We ourselves have taken pains to make our 450 square feet okay for two. When we eat, Pete sits on the left, I sit on the right; it has to be this way because he is left handed and if we don’t sit like that our chopsticks hit each other.
We have very few books because most of them are in storage with our respective parents, and we read on our kindles. We added shelving to the kitchen cupboards so we could get out some pans without removing everything else. We use hooks to hang our cutting boards, towels, utensils. We have a 7 foot tall shelf–which people occasionally lean on accidentally terrifying me that it will fall and all our wine glasses will shatter into a million pieces–to store our dishes and wine and games and liquor. We added shelving units to our closet and bedroom. Our kitchen table folds away to be a mere countertop, with the folding chairs stored inside it. Our coffee table has a shelf underneath it; when it got too messy, I bought a few storage containers to keep it neat, it holds more stuff now. We dry clean our two floor rugs once a month, and use one at a time so they always (often…) appear clean. We keep our luggage and boxes under the bed and in the closet; our night stands are used to keep many things other than alarm clocks and lamps and kindles and water. Our washing machine is on the roof.
We are very thankful to have a roof.
The roof has a waist high wall around it, so you don’t fall to doom. We have a grill, a storage bin, 3 potted plants, a wooden table and chairs from Ikea and a cooler. We have a chair that is so broken we only used it once; we tried to fix it and it broke again. Its name is Bertha, and Pete can’t bring himself to throw it away because it was the first piece of furniture he bought in Hong Kong. If I don’t know where to keep something, it usually winds up on the kitchen table or on the roof. We bought a hammock recently, and now use it up there to read and sit and pretend we’re on vacation.
We recently have had some growing pains in our flat. We have too much art, the art falls down when we try to hang it, our mess expands, the space feels small, our laundry multiplies, I leave my shoes by the door, he leaves his bag next to the table. When we watched our friend’s dogs last week, going to a bigger space felt great: we had room, we didn’t have to sit in the same place on the couch, I could go running and not see a building higher than 3 stories.
Coming home after that felt a bit cramped. We spilled out our suitcase, did loads of laundry, restocked the fridge, and soon started stepping on each other’s toes. I couldn’t get past him putting leftovers away so I could do the dishes. I had to restow the suitcase to get around the bed to go to sleep. We had to go through all the junk on the coffee table so we could put a mug of coffee down. Spreading out and then retracting is difficult. I saw all the space one could have, and wanted it for myself.
But the reality is, we fit. This flat works, I will hang all the art (provided I get it framed), and I have space to stretch on the floor (on the drycleaned rug) and some private outdoor space on the roof. Our friend’s home is large, because she’s lived there with two other people for 8 years, remodeled, and made it work. Our home is good for us, we’ve been here for 6 months, and put down furniture.
There are many ways in Hong Kong that people make their places feel bigger, find space. This is a classic example (classic meaning used frequently in the past year), and our space is nowhere near as economical. People downsize, make bunk beds, find impossible storage. Or they buy a house further out of town if they have the means.
Sadly, perhaps, there are ways that one person can fit into a 6×6 apartment, and into a 3x3x6 cage. These photos are images of Hong Kong poverty of space (and finances) that I don’t even come close to approaching. This is the underside of Hong Kong wealth.
At times it seems like this is the only thing to know about HK: there is no space. But this too is inaccurate. There is space. Green space. The mountains and hiking trails have become a part of my living space because that is where I run, that is where I walk. It is where I go when I have had too much city: the spot 15 minutes walk away from my flat where I can only see forested mountain and hear birds chirping. You find your escapes in any city, and Hong Kong has no shortage.
The article in the New York Times made me feel good about my small living space, how ‘sustainable’ it is, how my electricity bill has been negative for a few months, how I only buy things that I use. I would still love to have an extra hundred (or three hundred) square feet, yes. I will certainly eventually move into a bigger flat, so I can have more paintings on the walls, and have a kitchen big enough for 4 people to stand around eating snacks and conversing, because it will be more comfortable. But I also have many ways to feel like I have space already. It fits, and it’s fine.